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Analysts say India-Pakistan Troop Pullback Will Ease Tensions - 2002-10-25

India's Defense Minister says his country has begun pulling its troops back from India's border with Pakistan. Pakistani officials say they too will soon begin withdrawing troops from the border region, but have not said when their demobilization will begin. The troop pullback by both countries follows months of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, focused on the territory of Kashmir, which both countries claim in its entirety. Analysts say while the troop pullback will ease tensions, it is unlikely to lead soon to any significant new Indian diplomatic intiatives that might address long-term problems between South Asia's two nuclear neighbors.

Indian officials say the troop pullback is restricted to personnel who serve along India's international border with Pakistan. Forces along the line-of-control, which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan will stay where they are.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops were rushed to the border with Pakistan, following a terrorist attack on India's parliament last December that officials in New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants. Officials in Islamabad denied any involvement but tensions kept rising between the two countries.

War seemed inevitable after suspected separatist militants killed scores of women and children in an attack on an army base in Indian-administered Kashmir in May. U.S. and European diplomats scrambled to defuse the crisis. American officials extracted a pledge from Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, that he would work to halt all cross-border infiltration in Indian Kashmir. Tensions eased momentarily, but both countries kept their troops on the border - a hair-trigger away from war.

Stephen Cohen is an expert on both countries and a senior fellow at the Brooking's Institution in Washington. Speaking in New Delhi recently he said the Indian mobilization had achieved its objective and the troop pullback makes sense now. "We were close to a war. But, on the other hand, it was in India's interest to make people believe we were close to a war. The Indian strategy was to create the appearance of being on the edge of war, so that the U.S. would put pressure on Pakistan and that Pakistan would in turn ease up on some of its support for cross-border terrorism," he says. "Now the Pakistanis have pledged they would do this to the Americans, the question is holding the Pakistanis to this pledge and from the Pakistani perspective, this is one of the few instruments [cross-border infiltration] that they have to get the Indians to the bargaining table. So, I think the ball is now in India's court in terms of coming up with ideas for a political dialogue which might eventually lead to some sort of resolution, or at least a dimunition of the Kashmir conflict."

Indian officials say just-concluded state-assembly elections in Indian Kashmir, where 46 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, show they are committed to giving Kashmiris a political voice. U.S. officials, who worked tirelessly to pull both countries back from the brink of war earlier this year, say the successful Kashmir vote now gives India space to pursue other areas of descalation with Pakistan.

Following a recent meeting with senior Indian officials in New Delhi, U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill called for descalation and dialogue. "We continue to believe that a resumption of serious dialogue between India and Pakistan over the long term - sustained and serious on all the issues that separate them, including Kashmir, is a good idea," he said. "We just think that as India and Pakistan face these differences we think talking about them in a serious way is better than not talking about them in a serious way."

But, Indian officials say there will be no dialogue with Pakistan for now. They say, no matter what the Pakistanis say, infiltration continues across the line of control. Brahma Chellany, a professor of security studies at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research says many senior Indian officials are growing wary of U.S. diplomatic intiatives in the region. "The Americans were saying right up to June that Pakistan has to cease all flows of terrorism to India - it has to stop infiltration. But, now the Americans are saying, are plugging a new line which is there should be a simultaneous set of moves by India and Pakistan," he says. "India should agree to dialogue with Pakistan, and the international community would simultaneously exert pressure on Pakistan to halt infiltration into India. Now, that is a reversal of the American position and I think it is not going to well with the foreign ministry in Delhi. I know they see this as a watering down of an earlier American position and they believe pressure on Musharraf has eased from outside and that unless there is sustained pressure on the Musharraf regime he will not deliver on the terror front."

Brahma Chellaney says another reason Indian officials are unlikely to talk with Pakistan is that they have little to show for all of their diplomatic and military activity centered on Kashmir this year.

He says violence and terror continue in Kashmir despite the holding of elections and Pakistan's pledges to halt cross border infiltration. Brahama Chellaney says when it comes to Pakistan and tensions over Kashmir, India's politicians will simply wait for the next crisis to develop.